Monica Rozenfeld

Content Strategist and Milwaukee Product Brew Organizer

What happens when Northwestern Mutual’s digital product team co-creates with clients

Topics: Home.

Several members of Northwestern Mutual’s digital product team met with clients face-to-face in downtown Kansas City for something we call a “creative lab.” During these sessions, we receive candid feedback about the technology we’re building by asking questions like: “Do our web and mobile features help create stronger relationships with advisors?” and “Does this motivate clients to reach their financial goals?”

For the past two years, the digital product team – which designs and develops world-class technology products for Northwestern Mutual – has held creative labs with financial representatives and advisors. During these labs, advisors sketch on whiteboards and jot down ideas on sticky notes to help the tech team develop products that improve the business and the client experience.

This creative lab was different – it was the first one we held directly with clients. It was especially insightful because the group of clients all work at a digital product agency that specializes in design and development for web and mobile. Not only were they able to convey their personal experiences using our financial tools, they also had a keen eye for the details. They shared how the language, colors and fonts in the tools convey a message to them, which can impact how often they log in and if they feel encouraged or discouraged about their finances.

The session was spearheaded by Brittney Smith, a Northwestern Mutual associate financial representative with Northstar Wealth Navigation in Leawood, Kansas. Brittney told us she saw this creative lab as an opportunity to bring our three groups – client, advisor and product team – together, collaborating to help create a meaningful experience every time clients log into their account.

Northwestern Mutual associate financial representative Brittney Smith with Northstar Wealth Navigation.

Brittney said she wants her clients to feel comfortable when the markets are going down and to feel confident about where they are putting their money – to even be excited about their financial plans. The technology can help do this for her when she’s not physically there.

During the creative lab, our team zeroed in on how to improve specific features, focusing on the summary, spending breakdown and investment pages.

The clients, many of whom have recently had significant life events (such as purchasing a first home or planning for a wedding), discussed their financial priorities. For example, they prefer to view their financial goals first, above information about their investments or net worth.

One of the clients said a negative net worth at the top of the page can be daunting for people who are still building their wealth.

Another client pointed to Brittney during the session and said the relationship with his rep is warm, whereas the tech can feel cold. The group provided several ideas on how to better “humanize” the technology to make the advisor and tech experience more unified.

One suggestion that stood out to us, which our team agreed could be incorporated in a future version, was to add an option for clients to leave notes. That way, the next time they meet with their advisors, their progress and any outstanding questions or concerns can all be accessed in one place – and most importantly, won’t be forgotten.

Jasmin Cisneros, a Northwestern Mutual senior product specialist who attended the creative lab, said having these conversations with clients and advisors help confirm whether the company is on track or needs to redirect and make changes. The clients are invested in what makes a better digital experience and can express pain points they’ve experienced firsthand. By continuing to hold these creative labs and including a representation of all of our clients, we are able to keep them top of mind when building our products.

The clients told us they were enthusiastic about the upcoming releases and look forward to being able to visually view monthly purchase breakdowns (such as groceries and utilities). They confirmed the interactive charts would help them stay on track with their goals by comparing spending habits month over month.

Richard Lee, a product manager at Northwestern Mutual, displaying the new spending insights feature.

They also appreciated the look and feel of the new investment site on that will be added in the first half of this year, which will include bite-size educational content to make investment options easier to understand and less overwhelming.

Jen Lai, a senior product manager at Northwestern Mutual, said it’s important to ensure the company is building products that meet clients’ needs, which is the reasoning behind agile – the iterative nature allows the teams to continuously ask for feedback to refine the digital products.

Another senior product manager, Scott Yim, said it’s a common challenge for product teams to not only design based on internal priorities, but also – and most importantly – the needs of the clients. This creative lab was an effective pulse check and reminder that we are building with that lens in mind.

The team plans to continue meeting with clients to ensure the products help them meet their financial goals and strengthen the client-advisor relationship. What we learned from this creative lab is the importance of hearing directly from clients, the need for the technology to be used as a tool to strengthen the relationship with advisors rather than supplement it, and what the priorities are for clients starting out in their financial journey.

One of the clients at the creative lab said while it was the relationship with their advisor that drew them in, making the product experience stellar is what will keep him, and many new clients, around for the long term.

Not all Northwestern Mutual representatives are advisors. Only those representatives with the titles "Financial Advisor" or "Wealth Management Advisor" are credentialed as NMWMC representatives to provide advisory services.

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